For a long time, audiovisual translators in Finland have been divided into two groups based on working conditions. Freelancers who work for Finland’s national broadcasting company Yle and commercially funded MTV3 are considered employees and are protected by a collective agreement, whereas translators working for translation agencies must usually become sole traders.
The AV translators who work for Yle and MTV3 are covered by a collective agreement called Yhtyneet-sopimus, which was negotiated by the Radio and Television Employees’ Union RTTL in the 1980’s. This contract guarantees the translators a salary that accurately reflects their education. Translators under this contract are also entitled to holiday pay.
The earnings of AV translators who work for translation agencies vary greatly. At most, these translators are paid 70 per cent of the Yhtyneet rate, and at the lowest only 20 per cent. It is difficult to compare the salaries, because translators who work for agencies are typically sole traders and thus have to pay all the employer costs and insurances themselves.
There are several translation agencies in the Finnish market that specialize in AV translation, the largest ones being Pre-Text Oy, Broadcast Text International Oy and SDI Media Finland Oy. Pre-Text Oy is entirely Finnish, whereas the other two are international companies that have a branch office in Finland. Several smaller international companies provide Finnish AV translations as well, such as Softitler and Scandinavian Text Service. These companies do not have an office in Finland and mainly specialize in DVD subtitles.
Several multinational AV translation agencies are constantly trying to steal a bigger share of the market by making such low offers that they can only be financed by cutting the translators’ salaries. These agencies mainly hire students that are looking for work experience and therefore do not have a clear idea of what would be an adequate salary. Many come into the field hoping for a “nice job” and settle for a measly paycheck because the work itself is seen as enjoyable. In reality, the workload is often heavy and the availability of work can change without warning.
Even though most AV translators only work for one or two agencies, they usually work as sole traders, which means that the agency saves the employer costs. This also makes it more difficult for the translators to unionize. In many cases, the translators have no contact with each other, even though they might be subtitling the same television show for DVD.
Even worse, almost every translation agency demands that the translators give up their copyrights, whereas the agency reserves the right to alter and reuse the translations in any way they choose without any further compensation.
Even though the demand for AV translators has grown with the increasing number of television channels resulting from the digital breakthrough, the salaries that the agencies offer have plummeted. Agencies that offer cheap subtitling services are attractive partners for broadcasters. In addition to Nelonen, which only uses agencies to provide its subtitles, MTV3 and Yle aim to outsource an increasing amount of their subtitling work in the future. The Yhtyneet agreement has to be renegotiated periodically, as MTV3 and Yle are constantly searching for ways to cut costs even more.
As long as the prices continue to drop, there is a real danger that AV translation will become a field that no one respects or wants to build a career on, where most of the work is done by underpaid and overworked students before moving on to more lucrative endeavours.
Agency translators, unite!
In the summer of 2009, two AV translators reached the breaking point with a translation agency that once again lowered its salaries. They decided to contact other agency translators, who at that point were splintered all over the country, and establish communications with them. The biggest challenge was to find translators who, even though working for the same agency, were not even aware of each other. Some were contacted after gathering their names from the end credits of television shows.
In December, word came out that a certain multinational company had won the bidding war over providing subtitles for Nelonen. The new deal will give all the subtitling work of Nelonen’s several channels to a single agency in the Autumn of 2010. The Finnish company Pre-Text Oy and its 60 translators will then be left without a job. This decision was based solely on money – quality or a long-lasting relationship with the previous agency did not even come into the equation.
Soon after the new deal was announced, recruiting messages from the company that won the bidding war started appearing on the mailing lists of several universities that offer language-based teaching. Obviously the company had no intention to even try to woo the experienced subtitlers from Pre-Text to come and work for them for less than half their former pay. Apparently the goal was to recruit students straight out of school to fill the gaps. Students were quickly invited to join the online community to discuss the situation, which opened many eyes to the predicament the industry finds itself in.
The possibility to discuss with colleagues has proven to be extremely valuable. The agency translators, who used to work completely separate from one another, have finally started communicating with each other and are now demanding better working conditions. An informative web page is also under development, which will be available at http://www.av-kaantajat.fi.
If you are an audiovisual translator working for an agency, or a student considering a career in this field, you can get in touch with other AV translators at email@example.com.
Original text: Anna-Maija Ihander and Jukka Sorsa, published in Kääntäjä Magazine 2/2010. English translation: Erno Koskenmäki and Liisi Sipari.